Friday 16 September 2011

Can Wenger re-write the Arsenal DNA?

Words: 459. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 40 seconds
The performances against Swansea and Dortmund have shown how difficult it will be to rebuild the self-confidence of this team. The new signings will help but they were never going to be a magic cure. At least Wenger has hit the nub of the issue – winning is the only option.

I was surprised by the generally upbeat assessment of the Dortmund game – on another day, had their attackers kept cooler heads, we could have conceded four. Just as we praise strikers going through a goal drought for ‘at least getting in the right areas’ so we should acknowledge that even though the hosts only scored one, we still allowed numerous chances to be created. And Swansea missed an outstanding opportunity to secure a late equaliser too.

This isn’t me deliberately highlighting the negatives, just an attempt to remind people, like Rice and Wenger, that we haven’t ‘turned a corner’ after two shaky performances and two pretty fortunate results.

History repeating
Labelling a team as ‘shy’ is odd but throughout the Dortmund game that was the best description for us; the players are so lacking in self-belief that they dare not express themselves. Passes go astray, attacks fizzle out and we look more than happy to let the opposition have the ball and leave the brave stuff to them.

The insularity stems back to the Old Trafford massacre most immediately but has its roots in years of dramatic and traumatic defeats – Villa Park 1999, the Champions League loss in 2004, Birmingham 2008, Liverpool 2008, Birmingham 2010, the Carling Cup final last season. Not just losses in big games but opportunities being snatched away.

In yesterday’s press conference Wenger summed up the solution perfectly: keep winning. But I doubt the chances of us being able to pull that off and sustain the momentum for long enough. Wenger’s teams are designed to succeed when they are performing freely and smoothly, when everything clicks into place. They can’t grind out results against the odds like the Arsenal of old.

His style of play, that history of shocking defeats and that inability to shake off the ensuing torpor looks like it is now written into Arsenal’s DNA. It will take weeks, months, possibly years to rewrite it and I can’t think we have the talent within our squad to do it.

And then consider what effect another defeat, never mind an especially painful one, will have on the brittle mental state of this team and this club. That is when starting things afresh with a new manager becomes the only way of stopping a self-perpetuating cycle of gloom.

Best not to think about that for the moment and, as Wenger should just keep repeating, focus on winning, winning and winning some more.

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